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Senate Committee address phone records privacy, but falls short protecting consumers

March 30, 2006
Magda Herrera Herrma@consumer.org or
Jennifer Fuson Fusoje@consumer.org, 202-462-6262

Senate Committee Address Phone Records Privacy, But Falls Short Protecting Consumers
Panel Votes to Make “Pretexting” Illegal, Cell Phone Numbers Unlisted

(Washington, DC) — Today’s passage of a phone records privacy bill by the Senate Commerce Committee is a starting point in addressing the issue, Consumers Union said today, but important improvements still must be made to the bill to ensure it adequately protects consumers.
“Who you call, when, and how long you talk is like a diary of your private life. The committee recognized consumers’ wishes to keep their phone records private and keep their cell phone number unlisted, but we are urging stronger privacy safeguards be added on the floor of the Senate,” said Magda Herrera, policy advocate for Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports.
“We are grateful the committee adopted two pro-consumer amendments from Senators Pryor and Boxer. Unfortunately, the bill remains problematic because it fails to require phone companies to put in place strict privacy safeguards regarding customer records. It also undercuts what the states are doing and might do in the future to protect their residents,” Herrera said.
The bill prohibits “pretexting”—the act of unauthorized persons using false pretenses to acquire private phone records, and provides civil penalties for the obtaining, using or selling customers’ detailed phone records without authorization, including internet-based phone providers, or VOIP (voice over internet protocol) records.
The Committee adopted Senator Pryor’s (D-AR) amendment giving consumers the right to seek legal redress against those bad actors who fraudulently access their phone records. In addition, Senator Boxer’s (D-CA) amendment, which was also adopted, provides consumers greater control over their own phone numbers by allowing them to choose whether to be included in a wireless directory.
“We look forward to working to improve the bill to more fully protect the private phone records of consumers as the legislation moves to the Senate floor,” Herrera said.